By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
LOS ANGELES–Black community, media, and religious organizations confronted the Los Angeles Police Department about how they police Black neighborhoods and called for dismantling a database used to track so-called “gangbangers.”
They spoke to reporters Jan. 17 in front of the Los Angeles Sentinel newspaper after a closed-door meeting between civil rights, grassroots and faith-based leaders and LAPD Chief Michel Moore.
“With all of the malignancy that exists in LAPD, they have tarnished their own badge by stopping young men, Black and Latino, and putting them in a database and virtually ruining their lives; ruining their lives, because once you’re in the database, you virtually cannot get out,” said Danny Bakewell, Sr., Los Angeles Sentinel publisher.
They want the CalGang database dismantled and LAPD to disband the gang task force in its Metropolitan Division that uses the database.
“We will see whether or not they respond. The chief has been very responsive, but the department has been dismal in its ability to provide justice for the African American community and other communities of color,” stated Mr. Bakewell.
Chief Moore, who said he was outraged over possible intentional misplacement of young people into the gang database, did not agree that the database should be dismantled. He did, however, say he had contacted State Attorney General Javier Becerra asking for changes in how police handle contact with youth and document such contacts. The state attorney general’s office controls that database, but depends on input from law enforcement agencies.
Current policy allows officers to specify how they determined gang membership and the type of gang activity involved.
Chief Moore said he wants police interview cards reviewed, approved and signed by a LAPD supervisor before entry into the database. Individuals or parents of those added would be notified of the reason why they’re placed in the database, he said.
“This is a deeply systemic problem within the LAPD, and they have too much power in their hands to determine who is a gang member and who is not,” said Abdul Malik Sayyid Muhammad, Nation of Islam Western region representative based in Los Angeles. He was formerly known as Tony Muhammad.
“No one should stop a Black or Latino and impose that they are a gang member, rather they say it or not. If they weren’t involved in any gang activity, no police officer has the right to say who is or who is not a gang member,” he added.
“What we’re seeing in this process is one that brings about an atmosphere where criminality is being engineered, and when a young person, African American or Latino, is stopped, and they’re put into a database identifying them as a gang member, then their life then takes a totally different turn,” said Pastor J. Edgar Boyd of First AME Church. He called for challenging LAPD and combating unjust policies.
Pastor Boyd added, “The lives of our young people are being crippled for life … We appreciate what the chief is doing in cleaning it up and bringing justice in the matter, but the community has to stand tall, firm, and unified in demanding that this matter and this behavior and this outdated and unwarranted characterization begins to stop now!”
“Sweet” Alice Harris, longtime Watts neighborhood activist, said school and jobs are key for young people to progress. Every time youth are arrested for anything, like walking across the street with a soda can in his hand, police add that to their records, she said.
“Then when he goes looking for a job, the first question on that application, ‘Have you ever been arrested?’ It don’t say for what, but once he says yes, he loses the job! … Bring our children home, let them get some jobs,” Ms. Harris declared.
Mr. Bakewell promised Black leaders and others would continue meeting with LAPD to press for substantive change. We will make demands on Black elected officials and Mayor Eric Garcetti, he added.
“We’ve got to understand specifically what’s going to happen and we’ve got to have benchmarks on when it’s going to happen and how soon it’s going to happen,” said Mr. Bakewell.